Results tagged “sermons” from Reformation21 Blog

The Last Judgment

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Last night, I preached a sermon on Psalm 7--one of the lamentation Psalms of David, which he presumably wrote while hiding from Saul in the caves of Adullam.  A good portion of the Psalm is taken up with David crying out to the Judge of all the earth. The Psalmist calls on the Lord to come and judge the wicked. In so doing, he draws on the imagery of all people of the earth being congregated before the throne of God as they wait on the Judge of all the earth to render His judgment (Ps. 7:7-8). All of which reminded me of a section in John L. Girardeau's famous sermon, "The Last Judgment," in which he painted the most sobering picture of the final judgment. Girardeau envisioned all people, from all nations, throughout all time summoned before the divine tribunal on the Last Day:

"How unspeakably solemn! A world in one vast congregation! See, multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! Farther than the eye can reach extends a boundless sea of human beings, swayed to and fro with new and unutterable feelings. Before the august Judge are gathered all nations, and He proceeds to separate them one from another as a shepherd divided his sheep from the goats. He sets the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. All human and perishing distinctions are swept away. The mask is torn from hypocrisy, the veil stripped from secrecy, the paint and varnish expunged from the face of deceit. Missed are the strut and fret of 'a little brief authority.' The tiara, the mitre and the crosier, the chasuble, stole and cowl are looked for in vain. The tinseled insignia of rank and the gilded baubles of nobility, the arms of heraldry and the stars and crosses of honor are rent away from human beings, and leave them to appear as they are--'naked, unvarnished, unappendaged men.' The standards, ensigns, and gonfalons of earthly parade float not in the air of the judgment morn. Beauty, wealth, and power, gifts, talents, and fame,--of what avail are they now without true and heartfelt religion? The righteous and the wicked, the followers and the foes of Christ,--these are the only distinctions which have a place in that overwhelming presence.  Each one of that immense concourse is seen. Each one is known. Each one must give account of himself to God. No one shall share responsibility with his fellows. No one shall shield himself behind the instruction, the counsel, the example of others; no one shall cover himself with the skirt of minister, parent or friend. Families are sundered; individuals are parted from individuals by a discrimination awfully searching and particular. Oh, what a sifting! Jehovah's fan is in his hand, and he winnows the chaff from the wheat: He gathers the wheat into His garner, and consigns the chaff to unquenchable fire.

Now is the day of full redemption come to those who served their Lord amidst temptations, trials, and fears, and waited and prayed and longed for His second glorious appearing. Clad in Jesus' righteousness, washed in Jesus' blood, pleading Jesus' atoning merits, they stand at His right hand and look into His smiling face. 'Come,' says the King, 'Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was an hungered and ye gave Me meat: I was thirsty and ye gave Me drink: I was a stranger and ye took Me in: naked and ye clothed Me: I was sick and in prison and ye came unto Me. Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these, My brethren, ye have done it unto Me.' 'Enter ye into the joy of your Lord.' O welcome word! O thrice happy souls! Their tribulation is past, their conflict with the world, the flesh and the Devil is ended, the narrow way has all been trod, death, their last enemy, is conquered, and not one of them remains a tenant of the grave. The last battle has been fought, the last sin has been committed, the last tear is wiped away. The world's laugh and frown are alike no more. No more the cross, the fire and the stake. No more the chain, the dungeon and the rack. Shout, ye ransomed sinners, shout! For yours are harps of gold, crowns of righteousness, the beatific vision of God, and the celestial glory that faded not away."

A few more laughs, a few more tears, a few more sighs and we will all find ourselves in that one great assembly, standing shoulder to shoulder in the collective mass of humanity before the Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior and the Judge of all the earth. "How unspeakably solemn" indeed.  


Dear Church*,

In his book, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture, Graeme Goldsworthy remarked, "The act of proclaiming, or preaching, was not the giving of opinions or of reinterpreting old religious traditions in new and creative ways. It was proclaiming the word of God. Whatever the form of the proclamation, the content was the gospel of Jesus..." (32). Curiously, the Second Helvetic Confession uses different language to, perhaps, convey the same point. "The preaching of the word of God is the word of God. Wherefore when this word of God is now preached in the church by preachers lawfully called, we believe that the very word of God is proclaimed..."

Do you believe this? I wonder if you do. Hopefully a glimpse from the pulpit will provide insight into my curiosity. 

Some of you sleep throughout the sermon. I would love to conclude that you have a medical condition causing this, but my initial investigation reveals contrary information. The truth is you are busy, busy with childrens' activities, employment, leisurely enterprises that keep you awake late on Saturdays, and a host of other events. It is no wonder you are falling asleep in church. She gets what remains of your energy and attentiveness, which are nearly absent. Perhaps reflection upon and implementation of this section of the Directory of Public Worship will help.

"In order to sanctify the day, it is necessary for [people] to prepare for its approach. They should attend to their ordinary affairs beforehand, so that they may not be hindered from setting the Sabbath apart to God. It is advisable for each individual and family to prepare for communion with God in his public ordinances. Therefore, they ought to do this by reading the Scriptures, by holy meditation, and by prayer, especially for God's blessing on the ministry of the Word and sacraments" (DPW 1.A.3.a-b).

Others of you enjoy lively Facebook and Twitter conversations during the sermon. I am surprised your conscience is not bothering you. I am, perhaps, equally surprised that no one in the pew is stopping you. Maybe they do not notice it, but I do. Sure, you may argue that you are simply reading your Bible on your iPhone. At times that may be true, but your Twitter and Facebook posts correspond to the exact time of my sermon, which gives me reason to believe you are doing more than reading along in your Bible. Can Twitter and Facebook wait? God is speaking. Are you listening?

I might ask the same question but from a different perspective to another group. I know there are many avid note takers in the congregation. I am thankful for your attentiveness, and perhaps taking notes helps you maintain focus, but I hope you know the ministry of the word is much more than information. It is not a classroom exercise. God actually ministers to you through the preaching of the word. That is, he is continually refashioning your heart into the image of the Son. Do you realize that, or have you concluded that sermons are simply another way to obtain knowledge and tell others what you know about the Bible?

These are some of the things I notice from the pulpit. However, if this is all I saw, I might remain in a state of discouragement. 

Many of you sit on the edge of your seat anticipating the progression of the sermon from point-to-point. I can tell, by your facial expression and body language, you are eager to hear the gospel. In fact, based on the conversations I have had with you, you live from Sunday to Sunday. You have embraced, as much as you are able, the words of scripture as mentioned in Hebrews 12:18-24. You recognize the magnitude of what is occurring each Lord's Day. Thank you. You provide encouragement as I minister God's word.
 
Parent(s), I know it can be difficult to have younger children in worship on the Lord's Day. They wiggle, talk, and fidget, but you keep them with you. I know it can be a struggle. Thank you for wrestling through the difficulties of having young children in service. They belong with us. Please do not feel obligated to leave worship at every little noise they make. They are children; we expect it. If people turn their heads to look at you in a dissatisfactory manner, ignore them. It is their issue, not yours. God speaks to them just as much as he does to adults. As you continue to push through these difficulties, rest assured it will not always be this way. As they get older you will have to worry about them less and less in the service.

Do you see what I see? Since most people do not get a glimpse from the pulpit, I wanted to share a few things that I notice.

*This is not directed at any particular church. Rather, it is a collection of observations ministers have shared with me over time.

Whitefield's "Sermons"

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A quick note: Lee Gatiss has edited George Whitefield's Sermons in two volumes for Crossway. The two hardbound volumes are available from Amazon for £37.79 at the moment, but the whole shebang is available in a Kindle edition for only £10.52.

No idea how long this offer will last so bag it quickly.

PS In the US, the hardbacks are only $33.54, while the Kindle edition is yet to be priced but should be only $9.99. Silly prices. Bag them now.

Somerville on sermons

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Alexander Somerville (1813-1889) was a close friend of Robert Murray M'Cheyne. They went to school and university together. As divinity students, they met for the study of the Bible using both the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, and the Hebrew original. More often still they met to pray and share their Christian experience.

Somerville began his ministry in Anderston, Glasgow, in a similar church extension charge to M'Cheyne. Later in life his evangelistic zeal was renewed and fired by the ministry in Scotland of Moody and Sankey.

At the age of sixty-one he responded to what he was persuaded was God's call to be what may be described as an itinerant missionary travelling in India, Australasia, France, Italy, Germany, Russia, South Africa, Greece and Western Asia. He was Moderator of the Free Church General Assembly in 1886.

During his ministry he sought to train and encourage men to preach. The following is the helpful guidance he provided for them, which he called

RULES FOR SERMON WRITING

1. Pray without ceasing for clear views of your subject, for help in composition, in committing to memory, and in delivery.

2. Pray without ceasing for the people you are to address.

3. Remember you are to speak to souls who must either be impressed or hardened by the sermon you deliver.

4.Write for Christ and of Christ.

5. Remember that the Holy Spirit not merely can alone show to the heart the things that are Christ's, but that He must be recognised as doing so by us. Keep the Spirit's peculiar office and work continually in view.

6. Remember that what you write must have eternal consequences.

7. Write as one who must give an account to Christ for so doing.

8. Write for a people who must give an account to Christ for the manner in which they hear.

9. Never write for the sake of magnifying yourself.

10. Remember the flock of Christ must not be fed with ingenuities, but with the bread of life.

11. Write from the heart with simplicity, plainness (so that a little child may comprehend), and godly sincerity.

12. Pray for other congregations ... for your own companions in the work of preaching.

13. Never write without this before you - and read at least three times in the composition of each discourse.

Fire in the dry sticks

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It is usually after I have thought through or more formally prepared the introduction to a sermon that I again sit back and remember to pray. I do not mean that I should not or do not pray until that point (at least in theory), but it is often then that I am forced to consider my desperate need of God's help.

Will anyone still be listening? I hope I will have the ears and hearts of the people to whom I speak at this point, but will my words - designed to catch their attention and arrest their often-troubled and easily-distracted minds - have any effect, or will those troubles and distractions already have won the battle?

I am about to plunge into the substance of the sermon, the careful explanation and pointed application of God's holy truth, but will it have any effect? Even if people are still listening, will these words penetrate into the depths of the soul? There are men and women and children in front of me who are walking in darkness, and who need to see the light of the gospel of Christ. There are those who are downcast who need to be lifted up, those who are weary who need to be strengthened, those who are careless who need to be warned, those who are proud who need to be humbled, those who are presumptuous who need to be checked, those who are ignorant who need to be instructed, those who are hungry who need to be fed, those who are lazy who need to be stirred, those who are wandering who need to be drawn back. So many needs, such feeble words. Will these words, this sermon, have any lasting impact on the people who will be in front of me on the Lord's day, morning and evening?

So there I am, on the cusp of the thing, teetering between those words which are intended to open the door to people's arrested understanding and those words which are intended to carry truth through the door. Are they still hearing? Will they from this point hear - really hear?

And therefore I sit back and remember to pray, because neither what I have prepared nor what I am about to prepare will accomplish anything without the present, powerful influence of the Holy Spirit. Apart from his operations upon my heart and the hearts of those who will gather, there is a sense in which all will be wasted. It is the abiding Word of God that I will teach; the Spirit does not make it the Word of God in the act of its being preached and received. But if that Word is to reach its intended target it must be carried in on the wings of the divine Paraclete. If it is to accomplish its intended ends, then it must be applied - driven home and made effective - not just naturally by the labouring carer for souls but supernaturally by the all-powerful Spirit of God.

We cannot afford to go through the motions when we preach. We must reach the point at which we look at the words on the page or the screen, or review the things that are stirring in our minds and hearts, consider whatever notes that we have made to enable us to communicate the truth as it is in Jesus, and acknowledge that they will be as dry as a stick without heavenly influence. And that should drive us to our knees before God crying out to make his words effective in the hearts and lives of men, to do that thing which beggars human expectation and to make his word to prosper in the thing for which he sent it (Is 55.11), to bring the holy hammer of truth down with divine might on the stones of human hearts (Jer 23.29), and to glorify his name in salvation in its most complete sense.

And so we should gather up those dry sticks of our intended discourse, and pile them before God, and ask for fire from heaven.
For those searching out the Carl Trueman message on Judges 19, the URL you seek is

http://www.cornerstoneopc.com/index.php

Thank you to Cornerstone Presbyterian!

Powlison on Suffering with the Psalmist

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Last week, the Lord granted me the privilege to attend the Worship God '08 conference hosted by Sovereign Grace Ministries and Bob Kauflin.  The conference was wonderfully cross-centered, full of joy, and instructive.  I appreciate those brothers making the time beneficial to music neophytes like myself.  The conference audio is posted here.

And I'd especially like to draw your attention to David Powlison's sermon, "Enduring Hardship with the Psalmist."  I'm familiar with Powlison's very helpful written works, but this was the first time I've heard him speak.  In the very laid back (he effortlessly preached in a Hawaiin shirt and sandals; not even the guy from Cayman could pull that off!), calm, and instructive tone I imagine from his books, he led us through an overview of many psalms and their relation to one another, opened up Psalm 28 in detail, and showed us Christ throughout.  If folks are thinking about suffering, trying to comfort someone who is suffering, or simply want to understand many of the Psalms better, this is a great talk.  Highly recommend it.